Independent Cinema Office Blog

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Posts from March 2015

Berlin Film Festival 2015: Selina's blog (part 2)

Posted Wednesday 25 March 2015 by Selina Robertson

Diary of a Teenage Girl

Another buzzy title from Sundance was The Diary of a Teenage Girl, based on the graphic novel by Phoebe Gloeckner and adapted for the screen and directed by Marielle Heller. The film charts the coming-of-age adventures of Minnie Goetze, a teen growing up fast in the countercultural haze of 1970s San Francisco. Memorably, the film opens with Minnie self-proclaiming to the audience, “I had sex today... holy shit.” British actress Bel Powley (who will shortly be seen in A Royal Night Out) delivers a dynamite break out role as Minnie, an inquisitive fourteen year old with a big head of brains and a burgeoning sex drive, who sets her sights on her mother’s (Kristen Wiig) boyfriend Monroe, played with balance by Alexander Skarsgård. Apparently Sony Pictures Classics’ co-president Tom Bernard dubbed 2015 Sundance as “the year of the women” on the market strength of this one film. Interestingly for an American teen comedy-drama, the film has a European approach to (teen) sexuality: liberal, with a fair amount of nudity and refreshingly free from the morality police. Under Heller’s astute direction the film also gives weight to the source material’s semi-graphic novel, with Sara Gunnardottir's animations illuminating the blossoming Minnie’s imagination in a brilliant 1970s Crumb/psychedelic style. Joyful.

Summer of Sangaile

The Summer of Sangaile came recommended by a Berlin journalist friend who had already watched the bulk of the festival films. This poetically shot, Lithuanian coming-of-age drama, up for the Teddy Award, tells the unusual story of Sangaile, a seventeen-year-old tomboy fascinated by stunt planes but with a fear of heights. Over the course of a long hot summer Sangaile befriends a local girl Auste, who she meets at the summer aeronautical show, and together as friends and eventual lovers, Auste helps Sangaile overcome her fear of flying. Writer/director Alanté Kavaïté has made a beautifully poignant film full of surprises, with honest lead performances and lyrical cinematography that captures the distinctive Lithuanian summer landscape. The film missed out to Sebastian Silva’s Nasty Baby for the Teddy Award, which was possibly the more bombastic choice, but for me, Summer in Sangaile felt a far more accomplished and multi-layered film.    

As We Were Dreaming

The very talented Berlin ‘New School’ filmmaker Andreas Dresen’s latest drama As We Were Dreaming (Als wir träumten) showed in Competition (alongside Werner Herzog’s highly anticipated but poorly received Queen of the Desert). Dresen’s previous film Stopped on Track, a highly emotive and affecting drama, won Un Certain Regard at Cannes 2011 but unfortunately, As We Were Dreaming, with a screenplay adapted from Clemens Meyer’s award-winning novel about a group of Leipzig best friends just after the fall of the Wall, fell way short of its potential. A review in The Hollywood Reporter described the film as “a period movie that plays like a bathroom read”.  The weakness possibly lay in the screenplay that was led by a predictable voiceover narration lacking in any real tension, intercut with flashy chapter headings like ‘Murder in Germany, Rivalry etc...’  Nevertheless there is much to enjoy with the film’s mise-en-scene setting the scene for the heightened chaos and hedonism of those early post-Reunification days.

Exotica, Erotica Etc...

Nothing hits the spot like a cracking essay film and Exotica, Erotica Etc...apart from its creaky title, did just that. With a synopsis that reads, “Sailors are like terrorists. They arrive in ports with a bomb called love and throw it. And do you know what happens? The bomb explodes when they go away and they never come back, destroying the hearts of all the girls in the neighbourhood. How strange, to love somebody who pays you...” Reader, I was hooked. The film posits the idea as the sea as a place of longing and desire, a world of vast container ships with their all-male crews and the women who wait for them in the ports and bars. The filmmaker Evangelia Kranioti travelled to 16 countries and lived with a multitude of prostitutes including one in particular, Sandy, whose eloquent words and memories haunt the film alongside the inner monologues of the sailors and their maritime stories. A truly impressive piece of filmmaking that marries sound, image and ideas in a distinctively evocative and poetic fashion.


Victoria was the young punk in Competition, an incredible heist thriller shot in real time in a one-shot take over the course of one night in Berlin. Directed by Sebastian Schipper, an actor-turned-director possibly best known for a part in Run Lola Run, the film follows the outlandish escapades of a young Spanish woman called Victoria (Laia Costa) and four Berliner best friends called Sonne, Boxer, Blinker and Fuß who meet outside a club and together embark into the Berlin night... Thankfully I can’t deliver a spoiler alert because I had to leave the screening just at the point that the newly formed friends drive to meet some local hoodlums to pay back money owed from a prison debt. Safe to say, this is a big audience pleaser playing especially well to younger audiences for its audacious single two hour shot.


My final film of the festival came recommended by Colin Burch at Verve Pictures: Superwelt is Austrian actor-turned-director Karl Markovics’ (The Counterfeiters) follow-up to the highly original Breathing (2011) and played in Forum. The dapperly-dressed Markovics came along to introduce his screening with a few words about the idea of freedom and what that means in a European 21st century ‘time poor’ lifestyle.

Gabi Kovanda, brilliantly played by lead actress Ulrike Beimpold, is a buxomly-built married supermarket worker whose life rotates around the routine of her family and her job, until one day after work she appears to have a close encounter with God. The rest of the film plays out like a comic fairytale as Gabi becomes more and more distracted and her family less and less patient with her bizarre change in personality, possibly putting it down to early dementia or even a mental breakdown.

On reflection, the film’s set up is its strength, as Markovics posits a playful mix of black comedy and everyday magic set in a mischievous post post-modern Lynchian landscape. The tongue in cheek plot runs out of fun in the film’s second part as Markovics seems to not know what to do with his idea and how to conclude Gabi’s religious experience. The film’s ultimate strength is Ulrike Beimpold’s performance which is a masterclass of nuanced acting, and even though the film has a muddled anticlimactic ending, Markovics’ intro does stay with me alongside Gabi’s probing question to her husband, “How often have you been happy?”

News round-up... 24/03/2015

Posted Tuesday 24 March 2015 by Duncan Carson in General, News Round-up

Slow West
Slow West - one of the 24 titles screening at ICO National Screening Days in April


  • Our final line-up for our National Screening Days in April is now confirmed! Films include chilly Chinese neo-noir Black Coal, Thin Ice; the much awaited Colm Tóibín adaptation Brooklyn; festival triumph The Diary of a Teenage Girl starring Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig and Alexander Skarsgård; Mia Hansen-Løve's exploration of the 90's French dance music scene, Eden; Christian Petzold's searing WWII drama Phoenix; the superb Slow West starring Michael Fassbender and Ben Mendelsohn, and many more. See the full line-up and book your place.
  • Film festivals, have you applied for Developing Your Film Festival 2015 yet? There's less than a week to apply if you want to be considered for a scholarship - and remember this year it's open to festivals WORLDWIDE! Apply here.
  • Our re-issue of John Schlesinger's 1967 Far from the Madding Crowd garnered superb press on its 13th March release - hailed variously as "gorgeous, entrancing and elemental" ***** (Time Out), "extraordinary [...] raw, elemental" ***** (Independent) and as "seductive, psychedelic, luminous [...] a classic" ***** (Guardian). Read more and book.
  • Thinking about applying for a free place at our Children's Screening Days? There's now one more very significant reason: We've added the adaptation of Dr Proctor's Fart Powder to the programme. Not enticing enough? The German title for this adaptation of Jo Nesbo's bestselling book is Doktor Proktors prompepulver. I assume you're sold at this point, so click through to get your place.


  • Only one week to go until the Encounters Short Film Festival early submissions deadline! Get your short films seen at this superb BAFTA and Academy-qualifying event.
  • Broadway has issued a call-out for its exciting Near Now Fellowship, a 16-month artistic and professional development scheme offering support for creative practitioners (including artist filmmakers).
  • Ffilm Cymru Wales is running a Launchpad event this Saturday 28th for writers, directors and producers at Chapter in Cardiff. Targeted towards BAME talent, the aim is to find and support underrepresented voices and stories from Wales. Read more.
  • Do you have a film project connecting the UK and Nigeria? Read about the British Council's UK/NG project offering funding for cultural collaborations between the countries.
  • Run a community venue and need new kit? The BFI's Neighbourhood Cinema equipment fund has reopened!
  • AVIVA is offering up to £25,000 funding for projects that will make a difference to your community. Like... cinemas!
  • Made a film dealing with feminist issues? Submit it to the London Feminist Film Festival 2015.
  • The Smalls Film Festival 2015 needs your short films - early bird £10 rate to submit before 5th April.
  • And for even smaller films - DepicT! 2015 is now in need of your shortest shorts (90 seconds or less).

Read more

  • Are you a film exhibitor based in Wales? Film Hub Wales needs your input on their archive film survey before it closes this Friday 27th March.
  • We like British Council and BFI Flare's collaboration FiveFilms4Freedom, which means five LGBT-themed short films from BFI Flare can be seen in over 70 countries for free.
  • Learn from American art house cinemas via these case studies following Art House Convergence.
  • Have you checked out our jobs page lately? Currently we've got positions listed from festival volunteers all the way up to managerial roles! See all.
  • Akira Kurosawa was 105 years old yesterday - watch Indiewire's lovely video essay on his work.
  • Intrigued by the Bechdel test? Read this list of 20 great films that pass it with flying colours.
  • And finally: delightfully, Agnès Varda meets Mos Def.

15 years of Cultural Cinema Exhibition - Where are they now?

Posted Friday 20 March 2015 by Duncan Carson

Cultural Cinema Exhibition is the Independent Cinema Office's flagship course. Having run for over fifteen years (pre-dating even the existence of the ICO), the course has been an important rite of passage for people across the film industry, moving forward in their careers in programming, distribution, exhibition, film marketing and education, among many other avenues. With applications for this year's course closing on Monday, we wanted to take a moment to hear from past alumni of the course, where they are now and what they learned from the course.


fiveFilms4freedom, the world’s first global, digital LGBT film festival is one of the British Council’s most recent projects, in association with BFI Flare

Will Massa - British Council

When I finished my masters in World Cinema at Leeds University (2005), my lack of professional understanding meant I was probably overconfident about my ability to break into the film exhibition world. I was armed with some academic training, a bit of writing on film and a huge amount of cinema going, but I had little to no formal experience. The Cultural Cinema Exhibition course offered the chance to get an in-depth understanding of how programming actually worked.

During the course we were tasked with proposing a programme for a weekender at an imaginary venue. Drawing on my passions, I put together a proposal for a mini-festival of unsung gems of Latin American cinema. It wasn't bad, but it was no way near as good as another proposal called 'You Haven't Seen...!?' which played cleverly on a certain demographic's anxiety around having a patchy knowledge of the classics. 

We also workshopped the release of the foreign language indie/arthouse title called Sophie Scholl and it was a real eye-opener to see how much effort and creative intelligence goes into positioning a niche title in a crowded market. The biggest takeaway for me on the course was thinking about how to be passionate about films you believe in, while tempering that with realities on the ground and considering how best to engage audiences with smart curation. The course helped me realise that it’s critical to have a really well-formed idea of who the audience of a given film might be, and to neither patronise nor alienate them.

As I have progressed with my career, there are many instances where I have drawn on things I learned on the course – particularly the importance of striking a balance between pleasing your audience and offering something fresh, challenging or unexpected. At the British Council we run film programmes all over the world in a tremendous variety of cultural contexts, all of which pose interesting issues for the programmer. So striking that balance is something we take seriously, especially when it comes to sharing films that have something to say about issues like sexual identity or freedom of expression. On a day-to-day basis we pull together programmes designed to showcase the best of British cinema. This includes short film work, archive material, artists’ moving image, documentary, fiction and everything in-between. The course was a fantastic introduction to thinking seriously about the relationship between programmer and audience, the conversation that can happen through curation, and the practical realities of getting bums on seats.

Will Massa is the Senior Film Programme Manager at the British Council, having previously worked as head of development on Collabor8te, at Vision+Media, Screen Yorkshire and Reel Solutions, a programming consultancy. He attended the Cultural Cinema Exhibition course in 2006.

DCA Kids

Mike Tait - Dundee Contemporary Arts and Discovery Film Festival

When I first attended Cultural Cinema Exhibition, I had just finished my masters in film and TV. I knew I wanted to work in film in the long term, but I had completed my masters part-time while working in international development. I didn’t have any clear route about how I could start working in the film industry or even what role might be right for me (though I had a lot of cinema-going under my belt).  

In 2000, Cultural Cinema Exhibition gave me a clear sense about the kind of job I wanted to move towards and how to aim for it. I was always really keen to continue to work with young people, and the project I worked on during the course was to create a venue-based screening programme that would draw in a schools audience. This approach to exhibition – looking for the links to ‘education’, in all its many forms – remains a cornerstone of my current role.

I moved to Newcastle and started working as an usher at Tyneside Cinema. They had a strong education department there and I built up my skills by taking a pilot NVQ in cultural venue operations, and then revisted Cultural Cinema Exhibition. This really helped crystalise the directions we could head in for our education team and gave us ideas about new avenues to try. There are things I learned in that environment that I don’t think I would have understood otherwise. Kathy Loizou from the Showroom showed me how important it is to keep partners like teachers on side in an education programme. ‘Let them eat cake,’ was her motto and a slice or three of Dundee cake is never far away when I’m trying to engage new partners.

The people you get to meet on the course prove to be very helpful. At most venues, you can be quite isolated and the risks of trying new things can be high given the restricted budgets. Having met a big group of contemporaries, you know you always have people you can quickly ask about opportunities or ideas; they can be a sounding board and a support group. You might not use them day to day, but they can be invaluable.

Mike Tait is Cinema Youth Development Officer at Dundee Contemporary Arts and is festival producer for Discovery Film Festival, Scotland's International Film Festival for Young Audiences. He attended Cultural Cinema Exhibition twice, in 2000 and 2010.


Michael Pierce - Cinema Nation

At the time, I was working as a part-time projectionist at the Phoenix Cinema in East Finchley. I really enjoyed the job, working with 35mm projection and supporting the tech for special events, and alongside that work, I'd also started volunteering at film festivals in London to build work experience. However, I was really keen to organise my own projects, working with audiences directly and getting out of the projection room! I also was considering cinema exhibition as my career, so I wanted to get more awareness of the field and connect with like-minded people.

As I wasn’t a senior member of staff at the Phoenix, I wasn’t sure I would get on the course. It was also certainly the biggest investment I’d made in my career since university. But I knew from people I met at film festivals who’d done it in previous years that it made a big difference to them, helping them attain jobs at the London Film Festival and Curzon Cinemas. So when I received the letter saying that my application to the course was successful, I felt my career choice had been validated and it gave me a lot of encouragement to take pride in what I was doing.

The course itself was fantastic and packed full of great information. I met lots of interesting people, like-minded in their decision to either get into film programming, or improve their own festivals or cinemas. I seized the opportunity and tended to ask a lot of questions of the speakers and I still have my pad full of notes! It really opened my mind to the range of cinema exhibition out there, and also focused me on audience engagement. It certainly also boosted my confidence as I made new contacts, as well as life-long friends, which was an unexpected but important consequence of the course.

RW Paul @ Phoenix

After the course, I had a much stronger sense of my own abilities and was keen to put them into practice. I started planning an event at the Phoenix celebrating silent filmmaking pioneer R.W. Paul, whose studios were in nearby Muswell Hill. It tied into a BFI DVD release of his work, and the event had Professor Ian Christie lecture in between Paul’s short films, accompanied by word-class silent pianist Stephen Horne, who also happened to be local to the cinema. The course helped me negotiate rights and formats with the BFI, create a budget, design custom posters and strategise local promotions, with over 100 people attending on the day.

Looking for full-time employment, the course also helped me gain an entry position at Curzon Cinemas as an events assistant. Two of the people that interviewed me had also done the course in previous years, and so could trust that I had a good awareness of distribution and programming. It certainly helped my CV stand out from other film and academic qualifications. I spent three and a half years in the events and marketing teams, and doing the course definitely influenced me and a colleague to launch and manage our own popular strand of late-night cult movie screenings at Curzon Soho.

I can still see examples of things I learned during the course in my work today, especially in Scalarama, which we hope encourages others to start film events themselves. It also made me aware of activity outside of the South East as course attendees came from all over the country. Outreach and audience development was part of the course’s philosophy and so it’s great to now be able to collaborate with several partners around the UK, including some of my fellow course mates. There are some lessons that the course taught me that I think the wider industry could benefit from, especially on diversity in programming (and programmers), but as more people start their own DIY film initiatives, I see signs that there is a great cultural shift in cinema at the moment. Cinema programming is about advocacy and it’s great that the course came at the right time for me to be able to advocate for the cinema I want to see. I would really recommend anyone who takes their careers seriously, but also wants to have fun!

Michael Pierce is the co-director of Cinema Nation, a London-based research and development agency that explores, supports, champions and encourages all forms of film exhibition.Cinema Nation encompasses many projects including a monthly podcast, but is well-known for producing Scalarama, an inclusive film season celebrating cinema across the UK every September. Michael attended the Cultural Cinema Exhibition course in 2006 and will be teaching on the course in 2015. 

Lewes Depot site

Lewes Depot, soon to become a mixed arts venue, was reclaimed by the work of programmer Carmen Slijpen and her team.

Carmen Slijpen - Lewes Depot

I attended the Cultural Cinema Exhibition course in 2011 when I was working on a voluntary basis for the Lewes Film Club as a programmer, projectionist and committee member. I had set up the Lewes Junior Film Club in 2009 for which I ran big immersive events created around themes of specialist films. The Cultural Cinema Exhibition course provided a wide overview of all things involved in the exhibition sector. I come from a self-made background (I started my career as a projectionist) as opposed to a film school background where people build up a network through education so the networking opportunity was really valuable as well. The cherry on the pudding was that I walked away with lots of new ideas, some of which I was able to implement immediately and others that I am still working on...

I became a paid film programmer for a cinema run by the Lewes Town Council. Immediately after the CCE course I decided to try to develop a purpose-build cinema in Lewes and set out to achieve that. I found a funder, and we agreed to set up a charity. We gained planning permission for a 3-screen cinema/restaurant and education facilities in December 2014 and are looking to open our doors to the public in summer 2016.

Lewes Depot planning permission success

The Lewes Depot team celebrate being granted planning permission for the site.

The course has had a very positive effect on my career, it gave me a much better understanding of the position that the exhibition sector has within the industry and its relationship with distributors, publishers, venues etc. I also felt empowered in terms of a determining a career path. I can honestly say that I wouldn't be doing what I am doing now without having attended this training course!

Carmen Slijpen is the Creative Director and Programmer at Lewes Depot. She attended the Cultural Cinema Exhibition course in 2011.

Five things I didn’t know about working in distribution

Posted Friday 13 March 2015 by Sarah Rutterford in Cinema Careers, FEDS scheme, General, Training & Conferences

Delphine Lievens, one of our FEDS trainees

This year we launched our FEDS scheme, which aimed to recruit 15 ambitious trainees keen to gain film industry work experience, and to put them in work placements in leading film distribution, independent exhibition or international sales companies, where they can gain hands-on experience.

Our excellent trainees have now started their appointments, and below one of them, Delphine Lievens, tells us what she's learned over the last month while in her post. Over to you, Delphine! 

For the past month, as part of the FEDS scheme I’ve been working for Altitude Film Entertainment, with my time split between its sales and distribution teams. I recently graduated with a Film Studies degree, and like all new graduates left with an assurance that I knew pretty much everything there is to know about the industry. However, my first ‘grown up’ job has led to many (mostly welcome!) surprises. Here’s a list of five things I’ve learnt and observed in the past month whilst working in distribution, all differing somewhat from the preconceptions I went in with on my first day.

1. There is an uneasy ‘friendship’ between distributors and exhibitors

Whilst I’ve yet to really experience the ‘chaos’ of  holdover day on a Monday (the day when distributors try to convince cinemas to let their film play for another week), which I was promised when I started out as a FEDS trainee, I have still already begun to see many signs of the strange co-dependent relationship between exhibitor and distributor. They both need each other to survive, and each seem to have an impression of how much work the other is responsible for on the film. As I’ve got to know people that work in the industry I’ve heard a number of amusing anecdotes about the  “passive-aggressive” relationship between the two, and the way they interact with each other.

2. Expect spreadsheets

As someone who unwisely paid no attention to my ICT teachers at school, Microsoft Excel has always been somewhat of a mystery to me. In the past month I’ve found that there are certainly many more spreadsheets, charts and figures than I had hoped for. However, I’ve transitioned from the passionate hatred of anything numbers based that I developed at school to a slightly pathetic moment of excitement every time I uncover one of Excel’s secret shortcuts, accepting that it is a necessity of working in the industry. A lot of the work done in distribution in particular seems to revolve solely around Rentrak (the worldwide box office reporting system) and I often imagine that if it were to crash one day work at all distribution companies would essentially just grind to a halt!

Love is Strange

3. The film industry is a business

On Valentine’s Day weekend Altitude took the daring step of releasing their film Love Is Strange against the high-grossing cultural phenomenon that is Fifty Shades of Grey. I was full of hope and promise that such an authentic and beautiful film could actually win people over and make an impressive impact at the box office. The film has made a perfectly respectable amount so far, but it looks so small in comparison to the millions made by Fifty Shades. Amongst other factors, this has led to the realisation that the film industry is a business. I still think that there is a balance to be found between promoting films that are artistically sound and trying to make money, but ultimately I have found more decisions than I had expected are made on the basis of commercial concerns. I’ve found the way I think about and understand films to be slowly moving towards a more commercial perspective, although I get the impression that is exactly what you need to forge a successful career in films.

4. There’s nothing wrong with aspiring to work in distribution

As a film student surrounded by many who dreamed of being nothing but successful filmmakers, wanting to pursue a different role within the film industry often left me feeling like an outsider. After almost 6 months of postgraduate job searching and a string of incredibly mundane temping jobs, during which I found that genuine, paid opportunities were few and far between, I definitely started to lose hope in finding a place for myself on the bottom rung of the film industry ladder. Through being lucky enough to gain myself a place on the FEDS scheme I have thankfully found so many other like minded people, work colleagues and fellow trainees alike - who have all too found a place for themselves in the tight knit world of distribution (where everyone seems to know each other somehow!), and as such I’ve completely regained faith in my ambitions.

Love is Strange

5. Everyone’s actually really normal

The film industry of my undergraduate imagination was a very glamorous one, populated by Harvey Weinstein types walking around looking important. Whilst admittedly it has sometimes been hard to keep my cool, as I realised when faced with Mark Kermode (one of my greatest inspirations when it comes to pursuing a career in the film industry) just metres away from me at a Love is Strange press screening recently, everyone who I work with is in fact very normal and very friendly. Initially I felt somewhat intimidated by the prospect of actually finding myself a job in the film industry, and I think it would comfort all those in a similar position to know that it’s actually stunningly like a normal job. 


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